Spending many of my formative years on the ocean, one of my passions has been sailing. As a kid on Catalina Island, we had a small Sabot sailboat, and a Sunfish sailboard. On these two tiny vessels I and one of my equally insane friends would sail two to three miles out to sea, then back along the coast of the island, exploring coves and beaches like a couple of pirates. Eventually time and other commitments would interfere and take me away from the ocean.
The lakes of eastern Oklahoma are many and varied, some fifty miles or more in length. But most are man-made by the Corps of Engineers or the Grand River Dam Authority. These lakes are basically built on rivers using large power generating dams. Some lakes are over 400 feet deep, while others barely reach 30 feet in the deepest part. Grand Lake of the Cherokees, northeast of Tulsa, is a deep and wide lake, ideal for sailing. It is here that I and my wife, Angie, decided to put our recently acquired 25' Catalina sloop, Santa Catalina, so-named after the island of my youth. The marina slip where we keep her is only 36 miles from my house, and we find ourselves spending weekends aboard her, sailing along the coastline, exploring coves, and playing pirates-over-fifty.
Yes I am a pirate, two
hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over-fifty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late
My thanks to Jimmy Buffet
First Mate Angie mans the helm as the Cap'n watches for the Royal Navy
The Santa Catalina when we first found her, lying at dock at Lake Carl Blackwell in Stillwater, Oklahoma. "Cap'n Vinnie", the owner, gave us a great deal on her as he was eager to move on to a new job as a dive master in the Caribbean. Her name at this point was "Nauti-Girl". Angie nixed that name, hence the renaming to Santa Catalina.
Cap'n Vinnie and I, as part of the deal, moved the boat from Stillwater in western Oklahoma to Grand Lake and, with my help, rigged and launched her at the marina in which she now resides. The distance was over 100 miles and took most of the day. When we finally got her free of the trailer, I started the engine and began moving her to the new slip. About 200 feet short the engine quit and would not restart! I relied on my old sailing days in the sabot when I was a kid and began "sculling" the boat--moving it forward by working the rudder back and forth (thank God it was a tiller boat and not a wheel helm!). We (the boat and I) turned and slid into the slip just fine, to the amazement of a few local powerboaters. " One of them said, "what happened to your engine?" I merely looked at them as I tied up and said "Engine? Engine? We don' need no stinking engine!"
Santa Catalina in her slip at Grand Lake as she appears today. Angie sits on the cabin top in front of the "pop-top" which is up, covered by a new fabric cover, which gives more headroom below decks when at anchor or in port. My friend and sailboat mentor, Russ Van Sandt and his wife Jeana did the canvas work on the boat, fabricating the sail cover, tiller cover, engine cover and pop-top cover from scratch! On the Catalina 25, you can't sail with the pop-top up, So the canvas comes off for sailing.
Russ splicing a "Turk's Hat" cordage knot for the tiller. He built the new Lexan glass doors for the companionway, plus the new wood frame and hatch frameboard, installed new running rigging to a Lewmar winch on the top right of the cabin to raise the mainsail, re-rigged all shrouds with new lines, rebuilt the rudder and tiller, replaced fittings and several other things. As a retired machine shop instructor at the local technical college, and a former Navy machinery repairman, he is a perfectionist and a perfect gent to have work on your boat. He is ably assisted by his wife Jeana, (who reminds me of Raquel Welch). I did some new wiring, replaced the freshwater pump, and refinished the motor--which I had completely gone through by my outboard mechanic before declaring the boat fit for sailing.
Jeana and Angie at the helm on our first sail on Grand Lake with the refurbished Santa Catalina. The wind wasn't much at first, but this is Oklahoma. Here, if you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes. The wind came up significantly within the hour and she began to make decent headway at last. There's no thrill like seeing a wake behind a sailboat, with no engine running! Our galley, below, now has a microwave and stove.
Russ adjusting the standing rigging to the right.
Angie at the tiller of Santa Catalina waiting for wind. Can you tell which boat is Craig's? The "Devil Dog USMC" Flag is a hint.
Santa Catalina in her slip at the marina. Bimini (top) is up. Russ and Jeana's boat Katy Jane, a Catalina 30, leaving the marina for a sail.
Katy Jane under sail, and at anchor. Russ squares away the deck and awaits Santa Catalina to pull alongside for an overnight "raft up".
And then we bought Katy Jane!
By June 2006 we decided to upgrade to a larger boat. Russ and Jeana found a Catalina 36 that had what they wanted in their next boat and, timing being what it was, we decided to buy Katy Jane from Russ and Jeana and put Santa Catalina up for sale. We now have moved all our seafarin' gear aboard the "thirty" and have renamed her Amazing Grace, a name which came to us while watching Sunday morning Christian TV on the boat.
Amazing Grace in the slip. The dodger and bimini combination is very adaptable for both summer and winter. The aft cockpit can be totally enclosed or left open by removing selected panels.
The Salon of Amazing Grace. The teak has all been hand sanded and varnished with multiple coats. For a 1989 boat, she is immaculate. Russ built the fold-up table in the dinette which is very handy when you need more room. This boat has a full head with marine toilet, galley stove with oven, hot and cold water with large sink, refrigerator, and microwave. All the basic items a pirate crew requires.
Angie in the galley (every pirate needs a "galley slave" eh? Arrrrr...) Amazing Grace (when she was still "Katy Jane" under sale with "a full brace and a bone in her teeth."
Note the full enclosure for the cockpit for winter sailing. Heeled slightly in a Spring breeze.
Russ and Jeana's "new" boat, a 1993 Catalina 36 they named "Spanki", with all the amenities including an aft stateroom, full electric instrumentation, and air conditioning. They plan to live aboard and eventually spend retirement cruising the world. Arrrr....
Keel Zone, was our Venture 17, which had a retractable keel, making it handy on the shallower lakes. We even sailed her up into creeks near my house. But the first time we spent the night aboard at anchor, and Angie kept banging her head in the cabin, she said: "We gotta get a bigger boat." (I love it when a plan comes together!). When we sold the Venture, we then had room (and more money) for the Catalina 25.
Keel Zone got her name from my book, "Kill Zone: A Sniper Looks at Dealey Plaza." One of my friends came up with the name and it stuck. Her original name was "Sonrisa," or Sun Rise. This photo is of her in the yard after the first time I practiced rigging her and checking the sails. I had just acquired her and had repainted the hull, refinished the bottom, cleaned the interior and repaired wiring, installed a bilge pump and lights. She was a good first boat for us to get wet, and sailed well--and fast, but sometimes got a bit scary when we turned abeam to the wind, then picked up a gust! They say you can't capsize a Venture, but when you're healing at about 35+ degrees, you think you might be the first!
A few years ago, when my folks lived at Monarch Beach, California, near Dana Point, we had occasion to charter a Catalina 34 for a day. As luck would have it, the sea was calm, the wind not great, but we did manage to sail up the coast as far as Laguna Beach and back, spotting marine life and sea lions along the way.
The Big Kahuna (Me) on the left, my Dad, sitting, with a beard, (now deceased), my daughter Ashley in red, my mom, Bette in white, Angie in red and white stripes, sitting, and my nephew, Kyle behind her.
The Homeboy Comes Home. Standing at the helm in the blue Pacific, looking across the Catalina Channel toward Catalina Island, I wanted to turn hard a-port and steer toward Avalon. The temptation was great, but the time was not. Sometimes we look back in life and wish we could have done things different, or gone with our hearts...like steering west, toward the island....
It has been rumored in my family that one of our more infamous relatives is one Captain Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart. He was known as a "Gentleman Pirate," and was one of the most successful during the golden age of piracy in the 18th Century, plying the Caribbean and African waters aboard his vessel, the Royal Fortune. He had fair "articles" for his crew to abide by, observed the Sabbath, and even preached on Sundays. However, his pirate antics enraged the English monarchy, who sent fleets to find him and his crews. Eventually they caught up with him off Africa and the HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Challoner Ogle, managed to get within gun range and a battle ensued in which Black Bart was killed. Honoring his previous request, his crew threw him overboard to keep his body from falling into British hands, who at that time "piked" heads of those captured for others to see as a warning. Bartholomew Roberts had two pirate flags. One depicted a pirate hoisting a tankard of rum with a skeleton (dead man), and the other showed Roberts standing on two skulls with the letters under them "ABH" and "AMH". These stood for "A Barbadian Head" and "A Martiniqan's Head." On second thought, maybe I'm not related to this guy. Scratch everything I just said.
And it all began here, in Sabot 1525, being sailed in Long Beach Harbor when we bought her by my step-father, Bill Mutton, who later became Avalon's Assistant Harbor Master on Catalina Island where I spent half my youth.
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